Challenging misleading healthcare claims

WDDTY #8 - Quantum Flapdoodle

Can quantum physics help sell pseudo science? More ASA adjudications against adverts in What Doctors Don't Tell You

quantum physics 1

quantum physics 2Harmony United Ltd.

One of the hallmarks of pseudo science is its attempts to commandeer established words and phrases from science and misuse them for its own purposes, giving it a veneer of authority and respectability.

The prime example of this is the word 'quantum'. It refers to small, discrete steps such as the energy levels of an electron. In everyday use, however, it has come to mean the exact opposite: a quantum leap generally refers to some huge step in something or other.

But the word is certainly sciency-sounding and used by many purveyors of pseudo science, trying to give their product (there always is one) some legitimacy. The term 'quantum flapdoodle' was coined by Murray Gell-Mann in his book The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex to describe such usage.

In the September and October issues of What Doctors Don't Tell You, there were full-page adverts for a website www.what.getinharmony.com. Here you will find all sorts of products including a Home and Office Harmoniser that, for £847.00:

Removes all health damaging influences.

In case that's not sufficient, you might need the Harmony Omega II with 'enhanced abilities' for a more respectable £2,897.00.

This website even has its own description of quantum physics — one no quantum physicist would endorse — imploring us that "quantum fields are God" and:

This is what Quantum Physics is - the rediscovery of who you are and the herald of a new beginning for mankind as he re-awakens her divine presence here on Earth.

The two adverts in What Doctors Don't Tell You advertised this website.

We questioned the implied claims about their products increasing health and performance and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published their adjudication today.

In defence of their claims, the advertiser, Harmony United Ltd, said that their products:

…ensured that energy and information were sufficiently ordered so that the body and mind could utilise them. They said whether the human body utilised the higher quality order to remove disease was a matter for the human body. They pointed out that their technology had no influence on that.

No, we don't know either.

As the advertiser wasn't able to substantiate the claims, our complaint was upheld, with three breaches of the CAP Code for each ad.

melatoninInternational Antiaging Systems Ltd

N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine (melatonin to you and I) is an unlicensed medicine in the UK, but is freely available in some other countries as a food supplement. It's a neurohormone produced in the pineal gland that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles.

An advert in September's What Doctors Don't Tell You was for a melatonin product, Melatonin Zn Se, that also contained zinc and selenium. According to the ad, these:

…work synergistically with melatonin to produce a much greater effect.

The ad proclaimed that the product could

Preserve Youthful Sleep Patterns

It is possible to be prescribed melatonin in the UK (and at least one form of of melatonin is licensed in the UK), but if it needs to be imported, this can only be done for an individual on prescription from a doctor, using an importer with an appropriate Wholesale Dealer's Licence. Members of the public may be able to import an unlicensed medicine for their own personal use, but it is clear that the advertising of unlicensed medicines in the UK is not permitted.

This ad claimed:

Melatonin Zn Se is freely available in Italy and is now available for the first time under article 1 of the treaty of Rome direct from Italy to you!

This is odd given that, according to the ASA, the advertiser is based in Belize in Central America, they have a PO Box on Sark in the Channel Islands, their domain name is registered in Panama and their parent company is also based in Panama, yet give a London contact phone number. The website mentioned in the ad, www.melatoninznse.com, is registered to an address on Sark and gives the same London telephone number.

Regardless, because it is an unlicensed medicine in the UK, it is prohibited to market it in the UK, regardless of where it comes from.

We challenged the ad and the ASA's adjudication on it is also published today.

Trying to defend the marketing of an unlicensed medicine, the advertiser said they believed:

…their ad was lawful, decent, honest and truthful, because they believed that individuals had the right to import medicinal products for their own use.

The ASA upheld our complaint, ruling it breached the CAP Code and told the advertiser not to market unlicensed medicines again.

As always, advertisers should note that adjudications don't just apply to the medium the ad was in, but to all marketing communications — claims are likely to be just as misleasing regardless of where they are published.

Adding up

WDDTY CAP Code 13-02-2013

With 52 CAP Code breaches in eight adjudications on ten adverts and complaints on eleven adverts informally resolved, we now have a further five still to be resolved.

There have now been several resolved complaints about supplements making claims that mentioned medical conditions in breach of the CAP Code and these advertisers now have an ASA adjudication against them or have been informally resolved.

We have already reported an advertiser of a medical device to the medicines regulator (the MHRA) after they refused to acknowledge the ASA as a competent authority. If other advertisers don't withdraw or amend adverts to make them CAP Code compliant, will further complaints have to be made?

13 February 2013 

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